On December 23rd, a new Salafi jihadist group announced its formation in the Syrian city of Homs. Calling itself Jund Al Sham, or “Soldiers of the Levant,” it announced its purpose to wage jihad in Syria.
From the SITE translation of their statement: “After the hoards of the al-Assad gangs, and their Rafidah [Shi’ite] allies, united and attacked Muslims in Syria, it became incumbent upon the monotheists from among the Sunnis who chose the path of jihad and fighting the disbelievers in all their forms and types, to unite on supporting the truth with harmony and love among each other, while rejecting disbelief, and demanding a goal without deviation or backing out ….”
In the initial reports, the identity of the emir of the group, who goes by the kunya Abu Suleiman Al Mujahir was unknown. (Kunyas are honorifics in Arabic, usually derived from the name of the man’s eldest child. They are also used as aliases by jihadists.) From Al Akhbar English, it has been learned that Al Mujahir (The Immigrant) is a man named Khaled Mahmoud, a former leader of Fatah Al Islam. Fatah Al Islam is a Salafi jihadist group that was started in November 2006, in the Nahr Al Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. It engaged in combat several times with the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah. Fatah Al Islam is still active, and in fact has been involved in the fighting in Syria in recent months.
Khaled Mahmoud had been captured and was held in Roumieh Central Prison in Lebanon, until he was released in July 2012. He then made his way to Syria to join the Salafi jihad against Assad. He announced the formation of Jund Al Sham in December.
The name Jund Al Sham is not a new one. Abu Musab Al Zarqawi started a Jund Al Sham in Herat in the 1990s, reportedly with seed money from Osama Bin Laden. The name was used by Al Qaeda in Iraq affiliates who suicide-bombed a theater in Doha, Qatar, in 2005 to punish Qatar for cooperating with Coalition Forces. It was also a name taken by Usbat Al Ansar, another Salafi organization that was formed in the Ain Al Hilwah refugee camp in Southern Lebanon. That Jund Al Sham fought with Lebanese forces and was claimed to have been encountered by Syrian forces as well.
Usbat Al Ansar was led by Ahmad Saady and Abu Yousef Sharkiya. One of Ahmad Saady’s relatives was one of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi’s lieutenants in Iraq at the time.
Whether there is a direct connection between any of these groups, aside from tactics and ideology, is unknown. There is some information to the effect that the new Jund Al Sham under Khaled Mahmoud is in fact a little too zealous even for the Salafi leaders in Syria, and is being used as something of a “hired gun,” according to Al Akhbar.
What is known is that Khaled Mahmoud and his associates, working out of Krak des Chevaliers in Syria, are actively recruiting Lebanese youth as fighters in Syria. How many of them are joining Jund Al Sham directly, as opposed to going to the Al Nusrah Front, Al Fajr Brigades, or Ahrar Al Sham, is not known. A Salafi cleric, who claims that none of the aforementioned groups are affiliated with Al Qaeda, says that most Lebanese are going to those three.
While claiming that it is presently focused on jihad in Syria, several of the statements made by Jund Al Sham’s media arm have hinted that they are willing to support jihad on other fronts.